In my eyes, insight meditation has one firm and concrete objective: To gain insight into the no-self nature of reality.
But many paths lead to this destination, and in my experience it may well be a gradual process to learn how to see this truth in everything.
Gaining insight into the reality of emptiness and no-self means that one should be able to see it directly in every moment, if called for. It is therefore not something you can simply intellectualize or think your way out of. Also, it is not something which you can benefit from believing in.
In a similar manner, it wouldn’t make much sense to believe your ability to perceive the color red. You can observe it directly, and if that is not clear to you, believing in it or not is ridiculous. I guess you could say that you will have to trust in your experience, and nothing else. If I see red, red is seen.
It’s the same way with realizing no-self. You have to be able to observe it directly, and simply acknowledge that you are seeing it.
For this reason, all “theory” on the matter is really not important. However, it may serve as the necessary tool needed for getting on track. The same message is expressed in that famous Buddhist saying: Do not focus on the finger pointing at the moon. Look at the moon, in this case the observation of no-self, not the ideas, beliefs and theory about it. Not the finger which points – look at the moon!
The truth is that no-self is observable in everything and anything. Therefore there really is no perfect place or atmosphere to practice this stuff. In fact, the best time and place for practicing realizing no-self, is right here and right now.
No-self is a truth of the words you read this moment.
It is a truth of the thoughts you have about these words.
It is true of the feelings you have.
It is in every sense perception you will ever come across.
If you go to the edge of the universe, whatever you meet there will contain this truth.
Nowhere is it not.
No self exists. Period!
Have I expressed this clearly enough…?
Because the finger is not important, in this case these words, do not worry if you think all this is a little confusing. It doesn’t matter if you understand this or not. At least not in the regard to your quest of realizing no-self. No understanding is needed, trust me.
What I will ask you to do, is to take a part of what you are experiencing right now, or at any other time, and isolate it and observe it. See if it feels like you, or if it seems to be you. See if this is what you would call I/me.
- Start with isolating the sound of your inner voice as you read these words. These are simply a form of thoughts. They are a part of your normal experience. Pretend to listen to these thoughts in your head, as if they were not yours. Or as if the words simply came from a speaker in the back of your skull.
Inspecting your thoughts in this way, ask yourself: Is this me?
While asking, is this me, be honest with yourself. If you think yes, then what’s personal about it? What’s me-like about it? What’s personal about the voice in your head? Does it simply just feel that way, or is it actually you? All of you? Which part
- Ask yourself too: Is it me who listens to this voice, reading these words, or is it I who speaks the voice. Are you both speaker and listener? And why?
- When thinking a thought actively, willingly, what do you exactly do? How do you produce a thought?
When I look for this, I try to feel my whole body and mind at once, and look for where something moves.
Do I squeeze a muscle right before a thought appears?
Do I will a thought to appear? How does that work? What do I do, exactly?
- Look for the split-second right before you become aware of your thought, whichever one it is. Look for the first glimpse of it. How does it appear?
How does it develop? Is it instant?
How long does it take for you to be completely aware of your thought?
When I first started looking at my thoughts in this way, I was heavily identified with them. I couldn’t even grasp the idea of no-self. However, as I started inspecting my thoughts, I saw them behave in such an alien way. They appeared whether I willed them or not. In fact, I could not hold them back. Not for five or ten seconds even! And the contents of them seemed random to me. I could never know which thought would appear. And when they did appear, which they constantly did and still do, I could never detect where they came from.
When I experience thoughts now, I see clearly at anytime that they are no-self. I can observe my thoughts in a similar way to observing my TV screen. I can look at it, focus on it, or let it slip out of my attention. I can see and hear the images from the screen or the mind. They have nothing to do with me. There is no me at all. Just phenomena of thoughts and TV screens.
Starting out on this kind of meditation is confusing and difficult – but my guess is that if you’ve started, you’ll not stop easily.
All aspects of reality possess the nature of no-self, so feel free to look anywhere! Do you see yourself in your emotions? Your body? Your ideas? Your deepest dreams? Your story or life history? Your personality?
If yes: Where, what, how?! – Look closely and see what you can. Confirm even what you think seem obvious.
This insight business is about breaking down your total experience of life into smaller bits which are easier to inspect than the whole thing at once. Your thoughts, for example.
What else to say? Good luck!